Greek leader optimistic bailout deal will be reached soon

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) – Greece’s prime minister said Friday he is optimistic his cash-strapped country will soon reach an agreement with its international creditors, averting a potential default.

Speaking in Parliament, Alexis Tsipras said Greece was doing everything it could to reach a deal with its creditors in Europe and the International Monetary Fund.

“I am optimistic we will soon have a good outcome,” he said.

Negotiations between Greece, other eurozone countries and the International Monetary Fund have faltered for months, since Tsipras’ radical left government won elections in January on promises of repealing austerity measures, including pension and salary cuts and tax hikes, that have accompanied the country’s bailout.

Greece desperately needs an agreement so creditors can release the final 7.2 billion euro ($8.1 billion) installment of its 240 billion euro bailout. It is scraping together reserves from local governments and state entities to be able to meet a repayment to the IMF next week and to pay pensions and salaries.

Initial hopes that an agreement could be reached by May 11, when eurozone finance ministers are to meet, have faded.

Germany will be heading to the Monday meeting “with very restrained expectations. We will see how things stand,” said German Finance Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger, whose country is the largest single contributor to Greece’s bailout.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch finance minister who heads the eurozone’s group of finance ministers known as the Eurogroup, said progress had been made in talks but there was still a way to go.

“I’m happy to say that in the last few weeks there has been more progress in the talks, they’ve been very constructive, intensified,” he said in Rome after meeting his Italian counterpart Pier Carlo Padoan.

“But we are not there yet so the Eurogroup on Monday … will not be decisive,” he said. “We will need more time.”

Tsipras said that whether a deal was reached was now a question of political will among the country’s creditors.

“There is no technical issue of whether there will be an agreement. It is only (a question of) political will,” Tsipras said. “The political will is … whether Europe will tolerate, not a left-wing government but democracy in the country in which it was born.”

Not reaching a deal, he said, would hurt Europe.

“Europe cannot bear less democracy, and the crime against democracy in the place in which it was born will not be silenced.”

With chances for an actual deal on Monday slim, Greece hopes that an acknowledgement of progress will pave the way for some form of intermediate support. The European Central Bank, for example, could increase its support for Greek banks.

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